Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Wednesday 30 August 2017

August's literary 'house'

For the summer months it’s nice to be out and about and under canvas, and although this particular expedition was not as successful in that regard as was hoped, it still remains one of my all-time favourite books which I have read so often the book is falling apart. When I read it on the Thames itself, and on the towpath outside Hampton Court Palace, it almost had to be held over a bag in case bits fell off. I’m not a good sailor but I do like a boat on a river, and this one appealed particularly, even if it didn’t really work!

‘We won’t take a tent,’ suggested George; ‘we will have a boat with a cover. It is ever so much simpler, and more comfortable.’
It seemed a good thought, and we adopted it. I do not know whether you have ever seen the thing I mean. You fix iron hoops over the boat, and stretch a huge canvas over them, and fasten it down all round, from stem to stern, and it converts the boat into a sort of little house, and it is beautifully cosy, though a trifle stuffy …
Then we thought we were going to have supper (we had dispensed with tea, so as to save time), but George said no; that we had better get the canvas up first, before it got quite dark, and while we could still see what we were doing. Then, he said, all our work would be done, and we could sit down to eat with an easy mind.
That canvas wanted more putting up than I think any of us had bargained for. It looked so simple in the abstract. You took five iron arches, like gigantic croquet hoops, and fitted them up over the boat, and then stretched the canvas over them, and fastened it down; it would take quite ten minutes, we thought.
That was an underestimate.
We took up the hoops, and began to drop them into the sockets places for them. You would not imagine this to be dangerous work; but, looking back now, the wonder to me is that any of us are alive to tell the tale. They were not hoops, they were demons. First they would not fit into their sockets at all, and we had to jump on them, and kick them, and hammer at them with the boat-hook; and, when they were in, it turned out that they were the wrong hoops for those particular sockets, and they had to come out again.
But they would not come out, until two of us had gone and struggled with them for five minutes, when they would jump up suddenly, and try and throw us in the water and drown us. They had hinges in the middle, and, when we were not looking, they nipped us with these hinges in delicate parts of the body; and, while we were wrestling with one side of the hoop, and endeavouring to persuade it to do its duty, the other side would come behind us in a cowardly manner, and hit us over the head.
We got them fixed at last, and then all that was to be done was to arrange the covering over them. George unrolled it, and fastened one end over the nose of the boat. Harris stood in the middle to take it from George and roll it on to me, and I kept by the stern to receive it. It was a long time coming down to me. George did his part all right, but it was new work to Harris, and he bungled it.
How he managed it I do not know, he could not explain himself; but by some mysterious process or other he succeeded, after ten minutes of superhuman effort, in getting himself completely rolled up in it. He was so firmly wrapped round and tucked in and folded over, that he could not get out. He, of course, made frantic struggles for freedom – the birthright of every Englishman – and in doing so (I learned this afterwards), knocked over George; and then George, swearing at Harris, began to struggle too, and got himself entangled and rolled up.
I knew nothing about all this at the time. I did not understand the business at all myself. I had been told to stand where I was, and wait till the canvas came to me, and Montmorency and I stood there and waited both as good as gold. We could see the canvas being violently jerked and tossed about, pretty considerably; but we supposed this was a part of the method, and did not interfere.
We also heard much smothered language coming from underneath it, and we guessed that they were finding the job rather troublesome, and concluded that we would wait until things had got a little simpler before we joined in.
We waited some time, but matters seemed to get only more and more involved, until, at last, George’s head came wriggling out over the side of the boat, and spoke up.
It said:
‘Give us a hand here, can’t you, you cuckoo; standing there like a stuffed mummy, when you see we are both being suffocated, you dummy!’
I never could withstand an appeal for help, so I went and undid them; not before it was time, either, for Harris was nearly black in the face.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Interview with Russ Colchamiro

Russ Colchamiro is the author of the rollicking space adventure, Crossline, the hilarious sci-fi backpacking comedy series, Finders Keepers, Genius de Milo, and Astropalooza, and is editor of the new anthology, Love, Murder & Mayhem, all with Crazy 8 Press.
Russ lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children, and crazy dog, Simon, who may in fact be an alien himself. Russ has also contributed to several other anthologies, including Tales of the Crimson Keep, Pangaea, and Altered States of the Union, and TV Gods 2. He is now at work on a top-secret project, and a Finders Keepers spin-off.
As a matter of full disclosure, readers should not be surprised if Russ spontaneously teleports in a blast of white light followed by screaming fluorescent color and the feeling of being sucked through a tornado. It’s just how he gets around — windier than the bus, for sure, but much quicker.

I reviewed Love, Murder & Mayhem a little while ago,  and now he's kindly agreed to a quick interview about both the anthology and Finders Keepers, the first in the comedy series.

Hi, Russ, thanks for joining us! I've enjoyed what I've read of your work so far in both short story and long form, so here goes.

Q: These are very confident books! How long have you been a writer? Is there one incident or accident that made you realise you were a writer?
A: I’ve spoken on various panels over the years, and this question tends to come up a lot. I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer, but to be a writer, you have to actually write. Besides fiction, I was a journalist for a long while, and now I’m a media specialist, so I’ve been a professional writer for more than 20 years. I can’t recall the specific moment where I said confidently that “I’m a writer,” but I did struggle with that identity during my 20s. I was ‘getting there,’ saying it out loud—“I’m a writer”—and then cringing, hoping that nobody was listening or going to uncover how much I wasn’t a writer, because I hadn’t quite owned that identity yet. I hadn’t committed to my path. But that seems like such a long time ago. Writing isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am.

Q: I think many of us know that feeling. Is writing then a full time job for you, or is there something else you do, too?
A: Yes to full-time, but if you mean fiction, then, no, not full-time yet, but I’m working on it. As I noted, I used to be a journalist, and now I do media consulting for real estate companies. I represented One World Trade Center for many years, so that was quite a trip.

Q: I'm sure. And speaking of trips, backpacking is a real rite of passage, and I’m guessing you’ve done the journeys your characters do. Do you have a stand-out memory from your travels that you haven’t used in your books?

A: Ha! Indeed I do. But some stories are just for me. J

Q: Shame! Love, Murder & Mayhem is a really well-balanced short story collection. How did the idea come about? Was editing it easier or harder than writing your own books? Writers have the reputation of being as easy to herd as cats!

A: While writing Genius de Milo, the second book in my Finders Keepers scifi backpacking comedy series, I very briefly introduced the character of Angela Hardwicke. Though her portion takes place in the fictional setting of Eternity, she’s a private eye in that classic Sam Spade tradition. I gave her a much more substantial role in the third and final book, Astropalooza, and knew that I wanted to write a spin-off series for her, which I’m actually working on now. But before that I felt the need to write a short story with her in the lead, to get a better sense of who she was, her rhythms, and the kinds of stories I wanted to tell.

So I started the Love, Murder & Mayhem anthology through my publishing group—Crazy 8 Press. Including the other six (now seven!) core Crazy 8 members, I reached out to other writer friends to contribute, with every story containing at least one act of love or romance, at least one murder, and lots of mayhem. I initially thought I’d get nothing but private stories—I did a get a few—but the anthology contains superhero and supervillain stories, off-world and space cruiser stories, as well as A.I., private eyes, sleep surrogates, time travel, an aliens/monsters mash-up and … one DuckBob!

As for herding the cats … Since I’ve worked as an editor and project manager of sorts since the 1990s, I had a pretty good idea going in what to expect from the writers. I stayed on top of everyone pretty well. There’s a fine line between persistence and annoyance. Did I cross that line? Not sure. Depends on who you ask! But everybody delivered to me what they promised, on time. Except for one hold out. I won’t say who it was, but we were pushing the envelope in terms of schedule. I was prepared to cut that author from the anthology—and nearly did—but thankfully it didn’t come to that. But it was close!

Q: Well, it worked in the end! It's a really good collection. 
When it comes to Finders Keepers, did you set out to write a series? Do you plan your writing, or go with the flow?
A: With the Finders Keepers trilogy, the first book was originally just a one-off, as I had a specific story I wanted to tell and to tell it in a specific way. I did, but I left it open-ended, as I strongly suspected I’d want to revisit those characters. About a year later, while I was writing my stand-alone intergalactic mystery Crossline, the idea for Genius de Milo popped into my head, and about half-way through, I could see where I wanted to take all of the characters and their arcs through a third Finders Keepers book, which became Astropalooza.

Q: You cite Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett in your book description – what other authors, sci-fi/fantasy or otherwise, have influenced you?
A: When it comes to the tone of my Finders Keepers trilogy, I usually say that if you like Third Rock from the Sun, Groundhog Day, Hot Tub Time Machine, and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, you might like what I’ve done. And with Crossline, which is a space opera/intergalactic mystery, I usually say that if you like Firefly, Flash Gordon, Interstellar, Stargate, and Escape from New York, Crossline might be for you.

Lots of film and television watching, then! Thanks so much to Russ for the interview.